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Women, Sport, and Film - Spring 2005 StudentPapers On Serendip

Playing by the Rules

Patricia Cowan

Our protagonist is a young girl, no older than fourteen or fifteen, not very pretty and not very ugly. Her name is Kate. We first meet her standing silently in front of her family's open refrigerator, staring indecisively at its contents. Finally, she screws up her face in determination and quickly swipes one of the cheap cans of beer resting on the bottom shelf. She glances nervously about, making sure she isn't being watched, before spiriting the thing upstairs to her room. Her room is notable for that of a teenaged girl in that it is exceptionally plain - decoration is sparse and neutral in color. She locks the door, pops open the can, and cautiously sniffs at the opening before taking a swig. She makes a face and visibly prevents herself from shuddering. She continues to gulp it down, looking more disgusted with each swallow. At last, she finishes, looking distinctly queasy, but nonetheless proud. After a few seconds of meditative quiet, she lets escape a loud, extremely self-satisfied belch.

During subsequent scenes with family and at school, it becomes plain that Kate is very much aware of the territory that comes with being a teenaged girl gossip, makeup, and slumber parties and doesn't want any part in it. If anything, she's more attracted to the stereotype of teenaged boys aggression, rudeness, and risk-taking and actively works to fit herself to that profile. She isn't drinking beer because she's honestly curious about the taste; she's drinking it because it's a "guy" thing to do.

Sports are another "guy" thing to do. Soccer is the most aggressive, "masculine" sport that her school offers to girls. It is with this in mind that Kate joins the soccer team. While she is deliberately attempting to cultivate a specifically non-feminine image, she is also hoping to meet like-minded girls. Her attitude has not won her many female friends. Nor, to be honest, many male friends.

The soccer team fails to live up to her hopes, however. Her teammates are girls much like the other girls she knows. They go on dates, they gossip in the locker-room, they go shopping after practice. Kate remains aloof.

On the field, she is deliberately aggressive. She's pushy and a ball-hog. It makes her a good offensive player, but it also makes her a problem. She undermines the team's integrity by attempting to be a rock star athlete, and several times comes close to landing in serious trouble for undue aggression and unsportsmanlike behavior. This further alienates most of her teammates, but also attracts admiration from a few. One of these is Alice, who compliments her on her skill, but informs her that she should let someone else score once in a while.

Though Kate is still standoffish, she gradually falls into a friendship with Alice, mostly thanks to the latter's persistence and no-nonsense attitude. Aside from her patience in dealing with Kate, Alice is as normal as the rest of the girls on the team she's level-headed, an avid runner as well as soccer player, hopes to get into Cornell, and entertains a healthy number of fantasies about the redheaded guy in her Bio class. Gradually, a loose group of friends forms around her and Kate, bringing the latter to participate in girly, teenager-y activities that she would never have touched on her own.

Being a part of this sort of thing and enjoying it is new to Kate it's confusing, and threatening to her basic sense of identity. To compensate, she plays even more aggressively, imperiling her new-found friendships in the process.

Female identity is presently in a state of flux. The question of what is female and what is allowed to be female is uncertain, and there is a certain amount of inherent conflict between traditional and emerging ideas of femininity and masculinity, as well as considerable confusion as to what these terms really mean.

Kate's stance on the matter of being a teenaged girl is meant to reflect this. Her determination to conform to the standards set for teenaged boys rather than those for teenaged girls could be read as a radical change in her definition of femininity from that of her predecessors, but it could just as easily be interpreted as a refutation of femininity itself. The very fact that Kate sees the world in terms of binary male/female values is telling; her view does not readily admit compromise or blending of the two, and when confronted with the possibility, her response is to desperately attempt to realign herself completely with her chosen side. Her teammates (with Alice as chief representative), on the other hand, are comfortable both with playing what can be a demanding, aggressive sport, and with acting in stereotypically female fashion. The central question of the film is whether Kate completely rejects a feminine identity, or merely disdains its trappings. And if the latter, what is left to fundamentally mark her as feminine?

The plot eventually builds to a head at the championship game. The team starts off with a long losing streak, but Kate, by dint of her flashy playing style, manages to almost singlehandedly turn the game around. The team, despite their differences in the past, is now completely behind her and they seem ready to sail smoothly into a victory when things take a downturn. Kate gets into a brawl with one of the opposing team's players and is reprimanded and benched for the rest of the game. It is Alice who afterwards completes the task Kate began and keeps the team on track to a win while Kate watches from off the field.

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